At 08:59, one minute ahead of schedule, the first of an eventual 30,000 Marines of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions, under V Amphibious Corps, landed on the beach. The initial wave was not hit by Japanese fire for quite some time; it was the plan of Japanese General Kuribayashi to hold fire until the beach was full of Marines and equipment. Many of the Marines who landed on the beach in the first wave speculated that perhaps the naval artillery and air bombardment of the island had killed all of the Japanese troops that were expected to be defending the island. In the deathly silence, they became somewhat unnerved as Marine patrols began to advance inland in search of the Japanese positions.
Only after the front wave of Marines reached a line of Japanese bunkers defended by machine gunners did they take hostile fire. Many cleverly concealed Japanese bunkers and firing positions suddenly lit up and the first wave of Marines took devastating losses from machine guns. Aside from the Japanese defenses situated on the actual beaches, the Marines faced heavy fire from Mount Suribachi at the south of the island. It was extremely difficult for the Marines to advance because of the inhospitable terrain, which consisted of volcanic ash. This ash allowed for neither a secure footing nor the construction of defensive foxholes to protect the Marines from hostile fire. However, the ash did help to absorb a portion of the fragments that were expelled by the Japanese artillery. The Japanese heavy artillery in Suribachi would open their reinforced steel doors to fire and then immediately close their doors following to prevent counterfire from the American forces. This made it extremely difficult for American units to destroy a piece of Japanese artillery.
After running out of most water, food, and supplies, the Japanese troops became desperate towards the end of the battle. Kuribayashi, who had argued against banzai attacks at the start of the battle, realized that Japanese defeat was imminent. Marines began to face increasing numbers of nighttime attacks; these were only repelled by a combination of machine gun defensive positions and artillery support. At times, the Marines engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to repel the Japanese attacks.
During the battle of Iwo Jima, of the 22,786 Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island, 21,570 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the battle. The Allied forces suffered 26,038 casualties, with 6,821 killed in action. The number of American casualties was greater than the total Allied casualties on D-Day (estimated at 10,000, with 125,847 American casualties during the entire Operation Overlord). Iwo Jima was also the only U.S. Marine battle where the American casualties exceeded the Japanese, although Japanese combat deaths numbered three times as many American deaths. Some 300 Navy seamen were also killed. Because all the civilians had been evacuated, there were no civilian casualties at Iwo Jima, unlike at Saipan and Okinawa.
In anticipation of HBO's BOB Pacific and to honor my great uncle, who made it back from the South Pacific and lived to grow wonderful gardens until he was 85.